CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet

Thirty-one bloggers posted forty-nine articles (thirty-two and fifty, if you count Matt Mikalatos who opted out but still posted links to the book and tour participants, or thirty-three/fifty-one if you add in Jeff Chapman who opted out because he couldn’t post in time to officially be part of the tour), all discussing The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet.

Of note Sarah Sawyer is holding a book give-away. If you would like a chance to win a copy of this much-anticipated final volume of the Auralia Thread series, leave a comment, and you’ll be eligible for the drawing.

In addition, Robert Treskillard sent Jeffrey an excellent question which he answered in a YouTube video. (See below.) How cool is that!

And now it’s time to take a look at the bloggers eligible for this month’s CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award.

Of course, the power has shifted to the jury ( 😉 ) because your vote is for the winner. You have ten days to peruse the posts and decide who you think kept your interest, made you laugh or think or gave you the most information. In other words, which blogger deserves special recognition for the three articles they wrote for this month’s tour?

CSFF Blog Tour – The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet, Part 3 A Review

I love epic fantasy, which is why I write it. The Auralia Thread series by Jeffrey Overstreet is epic fantasy — a grand, involved, heroic story, in this case, one that took four books to tell. The Ale Boy’s Feast is the conclusion of this sprawling tale.

The Story. The Ale Boy’s Feast begins where Raven’s Ladder left off. King Cal-raven, having tried to free the slaves the beastmen were holding, is wounded and left for dead, thinking that he has failed. He receives surprising help, however, and is off to meet up with a band of his people seeking the site he has dubbed New Abascar.

The Ale Boy, also an apparent causality of the events in the Core, is resuscitated and in turn, uses the healing waters to revive the captives that had been ambushed. His intent is to lead them out of the putrid underground wasteland and to find King Cal-raven.

These are two central figures, though there is a host of others, each playing a critical part in the weaving of the complex story. Ultimately, each battles to defeat or to spread the Curse that overshadows The Expanse. Some side with evil in a subtle, duplicitous way. Others side with good after they have come to their senses. Their redemption contributes to the overall theme, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Strengths. An epic fantasy, in my opinion, depends on the world building. Readers must be sold on this place where the story unfolds. It must feel real, must have its own set of consistent rules, must seem tangible. In that aspect, Jeffrey couldn’t have done better.

His world is imaginative, dense, textured, rich. While it is totally unlike in kind, I would compare his world building to that of J. K. Rowling in its density. The reader is saturated in this world, and none of the aspects of the magic, religion, topography, social or political structure, history, etc. breaks that fictive dream.

Regarding the theme of the book, Jeffrey uses several extended metaphors (or perhaps metaphysical conceits), particularly the thread image used in the series title, to address ideas of beauty and how it points to “mystery” — the meaning and purpose behind all of life. Of course, as a Christian, I understand “mystery” to be God. For those who do not know Him through His Son as revealed in His Word, I suspect He does appear as a mystery. Clearly, Jeffrey wasn’t trying to make a statement about God in this work, but about art and its affect on the cursed, broken world in which we live. I believe he accomplished what he set out to do. (For an excellent look at the spiritual aspects of the series, I suggest Sarah Sawyer’s Day 3 article).

A third strength that bears repeating is the beauty of the prose. Reviewers who compare Jeffrey’s writing to painting have it right, in my opinion. His words give the reader a visual rendering of the scenic background. At the same time, his words have a poetic quality.

Another worthy aspect of this book is the rendering of the characters as real people, with flaws and strengths, willing to try, often failing, sometimes willing to repent and change, sometimes choosing heroic actions, and sometimes dying because of their choices. No one, if he is honest, can come away from an Overstreet novel thinking he has read about flat, undeveloped characters.

Weaknesses. In each of the other volumes in the series, I’ve commented on the multiple points of view and how following such a large number of characters causes me to be disengaged from all of them. Unfortunately, that issue was front and center in The Ale Boy’s Feast. Because I didn’t have an emotional tie with any of the characters, I consequently didn’t feel the danger, suspense, tension that many of the confrontations and intrigue should have engendered.

I wasn’t helped, I don’t believe, by how fragmented the narrative was, as one after another of the story lines was interrupted and left to be picked up later, only to be dropped all too quickly.

Yes, in an adequate way, Jeffrey resolved all these diverse threads. However, this was not a story I ever felt lost in because I was too busy constantly trying to reorient myself to the place, time, circumstances, and character.

Recommendation. The Ale Boy’s Feast is an artistic triumph. However, this one isn’t for readers wanting a story that sweeps them along at a fast pace. This story may not satisfy a reader whose burning question driving their reading experience is “What happens next.” On the other hand, for someone who prefers a literary flare and who loves epic fantasy, this is the perfect book.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet, Part 2 The Beauty

Beauty in the midst of darkness

After looking at components that create darkness in Jeffrey Overstreet’s fantasy world depicted in The Ale Boy’s Feast—book four, or the White Strand, of The Auralia Thread series—today I want to consider the “haunting beauty” R. J. Anderson referenced in her endorsement.

Seemingly no one can write a review of Jeffrey Overstreet’s fiction without invoking the word or idea of beauty. Jonathan Rogers said, “Jeffrey Overstreet has made something beautiful here.” Another endorser says he “writes like Van Gogh painted.” Another said it’s a work of art and yet another likened it to a beautiful dream. At Amazon, reviewers say things like poetic, wonderful language, descriptive.

All this points to one of the chief elements of beauty in The Ale Boy’s Feast — words. Not just words, but the way Jeffrey Overstreet strings them together.

Here’s a short snippet to illustrate the point from a page I turned to at random:

As the ale boy emerged from the earth’s crooked mouth, he breathed deep, relieved to escape the stagnant air of the maze below. Any light, even the sickly glow of the sun’s cold coin over a world drained of colors, was better than the subterranean dark.

“The sickly glow of the sun’s cold coin” — how’s that for an image!

This passage serves as an excellent illustration of my point. Even when the scene is bleak and the character is suffering, the language elevates the reader because of its beauty.

But beauty comes in an even greater measure from the characters. For one thing, some cling to hope when all seems darkest. Cyndere believes the beastmen can be restored when all around her want to destroy them, when her own experience should lead her to hatred not hope.

Cal-raven clings to the hope of a New Abascar when every reason to believe he can find such a place crumbles, and his own drive has been built on a delusion.

The ale boy holds onto his friendship with Auralia and the promises he makes to Cal-raven and Cyndere. His hope to lead the captives to the king drives him.

Jordam hopes for the infant he saves and for freedom for those he’s helped to rescue. He hopes to find Cal-raven, and then Auralia. Even several minor characters hope in the face of despair and try in the face of defeat.

Which brings up a second aspect of the characters creating beauty in the darkness. Any number of individuals do heroic, sacrificial acts when all seems lost. Above all, the ones striving for the good are not always the ones readers would expect. The old thief, the slaver, the former traitor, the would-be assassin, and of course the beastman and the ale boy once overlooked because of his insignificance — these are characters who change or who make surprising contributions to the fight against the evil that is consuming The Expanse.

Beauty amid the darkness. It’s a fitting format for The Ale Boy’s Feast, and in fact, for the entire series because the theme seems tied to these two elements as well. But I’ll discuss more about the theme in my review.

To read what others on the CSFF tour have to say about The Ale Boy’s Feast, check the links at the end of yesterday’s post. You can also read an interview with Jeffrey over at Spec Faith in which he discusses art and Rachel Star Thomson’s overview of the series and review of book four posted there as well.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet, Part 1 The Dark World

Jeffrey Overstreet - photo by Matt Sumi

“A darkly complex world populated by a rich and diverse cast of characters, in which glimpses of haunting beauty shine through.” So said R. J. Anderson, author of Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter and Wayfarer in her endorsement of Jeffrey Overstreet‘s The Ale Boy’s Feast.

As I read this final edition of the Auralia Thread series, I am struck by how apropos that simple description is. Today I want to think a little bit about what created the darkness of this world.

Going back to the beginning of the series, I see darkness in the political structure. Rulers are autocratic, and punishments are merciless. Consequently there is a great divide between the privileged and the “criminal element,” poor people who are left to fend for themselves without the protection of government services.

In conjunction with this divide is rampant prejudice, within particular houses, or feudal realms, based on economic and social standing, and between the various houses of the land known as The Expanse.

In addition, there is darkness in this world’s history. One of the houses has fallen to ruin because its people have succumbed to a madness that turns them into dreaded beastmen. The effect on the remaining houses is decidedly negative. They shore up their defenses against raids and have less and less to do with outsiders.

A third element that creates the dark tone of these books is the various dangers that encroach. There are dangers from outside the “civilized” communities, but there are also traitorous dangers from within. Each seems to grow as the series progresses.

Another source of darkness is the false religion, and the seers who teach it, that holds sway over one of the houses. Those following the seers are powerful but unprincipled. They pose a threat to every good character in the story.

Along with this aspect is the unknown of the “childish superstitions” that most adults deny — the existence of the Keeper and the reality of the Northchildren. Belief and disbelief create division and suspicion. At times, the most rational of people can’t tell if they are dreaming or experiencing something from a realm beyond.

Finally, the bleak landscape creates darkness. Even if Deathweed weren’t devouring all living things and turning The Expanse into a wilderness, places like The Eastern Heatlands and the Forbidding Wall still produce an atmosphere of gloom and foreboding.

Quite a dark world, indeed. But then there are those “glimpses of haunting beauty.”

I’ll take a look at that aspect next time.

For your enjoyment, spend some time with others discussing this fourth of four, the White Strand in the Auralia Thread.

Check marks are direct links to tour-related articles.

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NOTE: Tour participants, the Amazon link you received for our featured book is broken. You may use this one, or another of your choosing.

Writing Lone Wolves Or Inkling-like Writing Communities

At one of my first Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference, I asked a particular writer I respected if that person was in a critique group. “No,” came the answer, “I really don’t have the time.”

On another occasion, because I had learned and grown so much through the on-line critique group I belonged to, I challenged an editing client to get involved with a group so that person could receive feedback other than mine. Again, the answer was, “I’d like to, but it just isn’t practical with my schedule.”

As I peruse recent fiction releases, I find it interesting to read the acknowledgments page. Some writers thank everyone from the teacher who taught them to read to their current editing team and every writing group they’ve belonged to in between.

Others include no acknowledgments page.

I think of these latter writers, like those who admit they aren’t part of a critique group, as writing lone wolves. They have minimal web presence, don’t show up in writing communities or at writing conferences, either as teachers or conferees. They may still sell books, though, and may be skilled writers.

The other group seems eager to engage fellow writers and industry professionals. They want to swap “how to” information, exchange prayer requests, answer questions, cheer even small victories, and offer that analytic eye that tells an author if he’s on the right track or not.

Is there a right way or a wrong way to go about this writing business?

I’m thinking about this for several reasons. First, years ago when I heard of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Oxford group of writers that came to be known as the Inklings, I wanted the same thing. How great to sit around a pub, reading your work and getting feedback from some of the great minds of your era. It sounded so magical. How could they miss becoming great writers in that environment?

More recently, however, two very different sources have me thinking about the subject again. One came via Fred Warren’s Spec Faith article “Scouting The Competition.” In that post Fred discusses what Mormon writers are doing that has vaulted many of them into the ranks of published science fiction or fantasy writers.

As required reading for anyone who wanted to comment, Fred linked to “The Class That Would Not Die,” an article that gives the history of a movement started at BYU that brought a number of Mormon sci fi and fantasy writers into community.

A couple days later, in response to articles by Jeffrey Overstreet and Jonathan Rogers, Sally Apokedak wrote an excellent post about self-promotion versus loving your neighbor.

Obviously self-promoters are still in community (they have to have someone to whom they are promoting), so they wouldn’t exactly fall into the lone wolf category. Or would they?

Some lone wolves, it would seem, are predatory. They are more interested in their work, their progress, their successes, with little interest in “giving back.” They begin most comments, “In my article (book, blog post, interview, podcast, trailer, tour, book blurb, Tweet, etc.) …”

Other lone wolves really are alone. They resemble writers of old, tucked away in a patron’s loft, where they worked day and night to eke out subsistence wages. And they like it that way — except for the subsistence wages part.

Some of these writers take the stand that they are artists, not promoters. Others believe God has called them to write books not Facebook updates.

On the other side of the planet there is the gregarious bunch — those who have to force themselves away from social media to get back to the task at hand, because if truth comes out, they are perfectly happy talking about writing whether or not they ever publish a thing. These writers have no problem joining critique groups or writing associations. They love to attend conferences and join in writing discussions with frequency.

As I look at this, I see admirable qualities in the lone wolf who sticks by conviction and works with diligence despite minimal feedback. I also see wonderful qualities in those who freely give to other writers with no return expectations. They are generous with their time because they love helping. They are the ones who love their neighbor without thinking they have come upon a good promotional strategy.

But then there are those predatory wolves — not so admirable. Sometimes they don’t operate alone, either; they work in packs. Which makes me realize gregarious writers are just as susceptible to becoming one of them as the lone wolf is.

Honestly, the writing life seems filled with traps. I see only one way through:

Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God (Phil. 4:6).

The Stereotype That Keeps On Slamming Doors

Over and over I hear or see statements like, I don’t read Christian fiction because it is so ___. Fill in the blank — preachy, poorly written, predictable, unrealistic, sanitized.

I’m not going to pretend that all Christian fiction is well-crafted, with deep spiritual themes that demand real thinking while telling a captivating story.

But I think it’s fair to ask those who make negative declarations, especially categorical ones, about Christian fiction, What have you read lately?

Author friend Mike Duran began a discussion today on his site Decompose that has generated a number of slam-the-door-on-Christian-fiction comments. So I decided to provide short excerpts of a few of my favorite novels — YA or adult, mostly speculative, but not all — which fall under the Christian fiction umbrella, as evidence that readers would do well to prop the door open.

We must counter ignorance with facts, I think, or the same negative lines get repeated over and over. That’s a sure way of chasing off potential readers! After all, why should a reader pick up a Christian novel if a bunch of insiders agree Christian fiction is bad?

Here is a smattering of evidence that such a conclusion is faulty (links are to longer excerpts so you can read more if you wish):

The Charlatan’s Boy by Jonathan Rogers — a YA fantasy stand-alone

I don’t remember one thing about the day I was born. It hasn’t been for lack of trying either. I’ve set for hours trying to go back as far as I could, but the earliest thing I remember is riding in the back of Floyd’s wagon and looking at myself in a looking glass.

I’ve run across folks claim they know everything about their birthday—where it happened, who they was with, what day it was. But if you really press them on it, turns out they don’t remember no more about it than I do. They only know what somebody told them.

I don’t care who you are—when it comes to knowing where you come from, you got to take somebody else’s word for it. That’s where things has always got ticklish for me. I only know one man who might be able to tell me where I come from, and that man is a liar and a fraud.

Vanish by Tom Pawlick — first in a series of adult supernatural suspense

It all began with a feeling. Just an eerie feeling.

Conner Hayden peered out his office window at the hazy downtown Chicago vista. Heat plumes radiated from tar-covered rooftops baking in the midafternoon sun. A late-summer heat wave had every AC unit in the city running at full capacity.

He narrowed his eyes. Every unit except the one on the building across the street. On that roof, a lone maintenance worker in blue coveralls crouched beside the bulky air conditioner with his toolbox open beside him.

Conner watched the man toil in the oppressive August heat. Something hadn’t felt right all day. Despite the relative seclusion of his thirty-ninth-floor office, Conner couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched.

It had begun early that morning when he stopped for gas. He could have sworn the guy at the next pump was staring at him. Conner saw his face for only an instant. But it looked strange somehow — dark, as if shrouded by a passing shadow. And his eyes . . .

For a moment, his eyes looked completely white.

Then the shadow passed and the guy turned away.

On The Edge Of The Dark Sea Of Darkness, Book One of the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson — Middle Grade/YA fantasy

Just outside the town of Glipwood, perched near the edge of the cliffs above the Dark Sea sat a little cottage where lived the Igiby family. The cottage was rather plain, except for how comfortable it was, and how nicely it had been built, and how neatly it was kept in spite of the three children who lived there, and except for the love that glowed from it like firelight from its windows at night.

As for the Igiby family? Well, except for the way they always sat late into the night beside the hearth telling stories, and when they sang in the garden while they gathered the harvest, and when the grandfather, Podo Helmer, sat on the porch blowing smoke rings, and except for all the good, warm things that filled their days there like cider in a mug on a winter night, they were quite miserable. Quite miserable indeed, in that land where walked the Fangs of Dang.

Back On Murder by J. Mark Bertrand — first in the Roland March Mystery series, adult mystery

I’m on the way out. They can all tell, which is why the crime scene technicians hardly acknowledge my presence, and my own colleagues do a double take whenever I speak. Like they’re surprised to find me still here.

But I am here, staring down into the waxy face of a man who, with a change of wardrobe, could pass for a martyred saint.

It’s all in the eyes. Rolling heavenward in agony, brows arched in acute pain. A pencil mustache clinging to the vaulted upper lip, blood seeping through the cracks between the teeth. The ink on his biceps. Blessed Virgins and barb-wired hearts and a haloed man with a cleft beard.

But instead of a volley of arrows or a vat of boiling oil, this one took a shotgun blast point-blank just under the rib cage, flaying his wife-beater and the chest cavity beneath. He fell backward onto the bed, arms out, bleeding out onto the dingy sheets.

Lorenz stands next to me, holding the victim’s wallet. He slips the license out and whistles. “Our boy here is Octavio Morales.”

He’s speaking to the room, not me personally, but I answer anyway. “The money guy?”

The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet — adult fantasy (this excerpt is from the Auralia Thread series summary leading up to this book)


The ale boy was once an errand runner, almost invisible as he served House Abascar. As he grew up—an orphan raised by House Abascar’s beer brewer and winemaker—his real name remained a secret, even from him.

But what he did know proved useful indeed. As he gathered the harvest fruits beyond Abascar’s walls, worked with brewers below ground, delivered drinks across the city, and served the king his favorite liquor, the ale boy learned the shortcuts and secrets of that oppressed kingdom.

When the ale boy met Auralia, a mysterious and artistic young woman from the wilderness, they formed a friendship that would change the world. Auralia’s artistry shone with colors no one had ever seen, and when she revealed her masterpiece within House Abascar, the kingdom erupted in turmoil that ended in a calamitous collapse. Auralia vanished, as did her enchanting colors. And hundreds of people died.

Brokenhearted but brave, the ale boy sought out survivors in Abascar’s ruins and helped them find their way to a refuge in the Cliffs of Barnashum.There, led by their new king, Cal-raven, the people endured a harsh winter and an attack from the Cent Regus beastmen.

The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs — YA fantasy

The day was gray and cold, mildly damp. Perfect for magic.

Strange clouds overhead teased the senses with a fragrance of storm, wind, and lightning, and the faint, clean smell of ozone. Invisible energy sparkled like morning dew on blades of grass.

Standing alone in an empty field on the back end of their new acreage, Hadyn Barlow only saw the clouds. By definition, you can’t see what’s invisible, and as for smelling magic? Well, let’s just say, unlikely. Hadyn saw what was obvious for late November, rural Missouri: leafless trees, dead grass, winter coming on strong. Most of all he saw (and despised) the humongous briar patch in front of him, feeling anew each and every blister and callus earned hacking through its branches.

Blaggard’s Moon by George Bryan Polivka (maybe the best of them all) — adult fantasy

“On a post. In a pond.”

Delaney said the words aloud, not because anyone could hear him but because the words needed saying. He wished his small declaration could create a bit of sympathy from a crewmate, or a native, or even one of the cutthroats who had left him here. But he was alone.

It wasn’t the post to which he’d been abandoned that troubled him, though it was troubling enough. The post was worn and unsteady, about eight inches across at the top where his behind was perched, and it jutted eight feet or so up from the still water below him. His shins hugged its pocked and ragged sides; his feet were knotted at the ankles behind him for balance. Delaney was a sailor, and this was not much different than dock posts in port where he’d sat many times to take his lunch. He was young enough not to be troubled with a little pain in the backside, old enough to have felt his share of it. No, the post wasn’t the problem.

The pond from which the post jutted was not terribly troublesome either. It was a lagoon, really, less than a hundred yards across, no more than fifty yards to shore in any direction. He could swim that distance easily. He peered down through the water, past its smooth, still surface, and eyed the silver-green flash of scales, lit bright by the noonday sun.

The piranha, now, they were somewhat vexing.

Lost Mission by Athol Dickson — adult magic realism (sadly I can’t copy any of the excerpt of this one, so you’ll have to click on the link to get a flavor of the book.

Mind you, this sampling doesn’t include a single author of women’s fiction. In that genre I’d recommend Julie Carobini, Kathryn Cushman, Kathleen Popa, Sharon Souza, Debbie Thomas, and that’s right off the top of my head.

I’m just saying, good Christian fiction is available.

When readers listen to those who don’t (or who no longer) read the genre, they are insuring that publishers will not aim for a larger audience — because when they do, insiders will say, Those genres don’t sell. And they’ll be right because those not informed about the latest books and newest authors are telling potential readers how horrible Christian fiction is. Who wants to buy books when the buzz about them is so negative?

How about, let’s at least keep an open mind, so when someone like me or Tim George who reviews for Fiction Addict or any of the CSFF Tour bloggers gives a contrasting opinion to the “Christian fiction is bad” mantra, we might consider that it’s possible there are some worthwhile books published by Christian houses.

CSFF Blog Tour – Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, Day 3

Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet is the third book in The Auralia Thread series, an adult fantasy published by WaterBrook Press. Clearly this novel is not a stand-alone but part of a continuing story begun by Auralia’s Colors and advanced by Cyndere’s Midnight. The story is anything but finished in this third installment.

For those of us who enjoy continuing stories that keep us on the edge of our seats, this epic style is familiar. Andrew Peterson utilizes this approach in his Wingfeather Saga as does D. Barkley Briggs (the Legends of Karac Tor series), Wayne Batson/Christopher Hopper (The Berinfell Prophecies Series), and any number of other fantasy authors.

And now a review of Raven’s Ladder.

The Story. In the Expanse, four city-states exist. One, House Cent Regis, has been cursed and all its people turned into savage beastmen. A second, House Abascar, was destroyed and the survivors, gathered together by their new king Cal-raven, have holed up in nearby caves.

Cal-raven, who believes in a mysterious creature known as the Keeper, determines to relocate his house. Beastmen had attacked; something was scaring off all the animals, making it difficult to find enough food for his people; and a group of Grudgers were plotting his overthrow.

After talking with his mentor, he sets off, following signs he believes the Keeper has left, to locate a suitable place for New Abascar.

While he is away, a new threat chases the refugees from their shelter. Feelers spring up from the ground, breaking stone and destroying the caves. Led by the king’s second in command, the group heads north.

Meanwhile Cal-raven encounters people from a third house, Bel Amica. Eventually a Seer, a worshiper of moon spirits, hires men to kill Abascar’s king. However, they choose instead to throw him in a pit and sell him to slavers. Those “merchants” take him to House Bel Amica.

Soon after, the Abascar refugees are also herded to Bel Amica, for their protection. The one-time heiress, Cyndere, manages to find Cal-raven and to arrange for proper care and safety for his people.

Days pass and Cal-raven grows restless. He knows now where he should take his people, where they will build New Abascar. He is concerned that many are growing comfortable in the opulence, and greed, of Bel Amica.

As he is making his preparations, Cyndere comes to him asking for his help. She has a plan to end the curse of the Cent Regis, and she wants to free the prisoners the Beastmen have taken. One of these is Cal-raven’s mother. He immediately agrees, even moving up the time line for the planned rescue.

I’ll stop there.

Strengths. Jeffrey Overstreet writes beautiful prose. His story is imaginative and for the most part, unpredictable. The surprises keep the reader off-balance.

The novel seems ripe with symbolism, so it makes the reader think. Because this fantasy world is quite dark and in places, unfamiliar, it has a definite brooding mood.

The author’s voice is strong. I could probably pick up any Overstreet novel and know by reading a page that he authored it.

Mood, voice, imaginative and descriptive prose—these are qualities too often neglected in fiction.

Weaknesses. I have to be honest. This is not my favorite Overstreet novel. Over at Amazon, one reviewer likened the book to the TV series Lost. Interestingly, at one point I thought the same thing. Though I don’t watch the show, I’ve heard others discuss it, and what they said was what I was thinking about Raven’s Ladder.

Once again I felt something was lacking in the characterization. I understand what each wants, and in most cases they are worthy goals, some even Big Goals that will effect their world in a powerful way. I just don’t care. Why? I wish I understood. I think this is so important to the success of a book. I didn’t feel like I entered into any of the characters’ stories emotionally.

I’ve postulated before that this might be because of the size of the cast and the frequent shift in point of view to any number of characters (I don’t think I could remember them all).

I think there also might be another reason. I don’t see the scenes well. It’s a surprising admission because generally Mr. Overstreet is praised as an author who paints pictures with his words. But that’s the point. I feel like he’s painting a picture not a story. Sometimes the action scenes are hard for me to figure out who did what and where they all were. I can’t see the action.

A third reason might be that I don’t hear individual voices, and the different characters don’t seem to create different moods. It all seems quite dark and hopeless. Even those who are enjoying the pleasures of Bel Amica are doing so as a way to stifle their sadness, and it’s clearly not a healthy or refreshing endeavor.

A fourth thing. Once again, for long stretches, the protagonist of the book does nothing. He is sitting and planning, so I as a reader have nothing to cheer him on toward.

In addition, while much is said about the resident bad guys, they don’t show up “on stage” until the last hundred pages of the book.

There were some plot things that bothered me, too. When Cyndere takes Cal-raven in, apparently nothing is done about those who tried to assassinate him—no effort to identify them or to punish the slavers or even to protect him in case they tried again. In addition, apparently Cal-raven never asked his people why they left the caves. And they never alerted the Bel Amicans to the danger of the feelers that later attack ships in the harbor. Nor did the Bel Amicans seem surprised that the Abascar refugees had left their caves. Or that the Seers had brought them in to Bel Amica against their will. In other words, a lot happened that should have raised questions and created tension and even conflict. It didn’t.

Recommendation. I wanted to like this book more than I actually did. However, mine is just one opinion. Others on the tour have a different take. Some even believe this is the best book of the series. I think that means, readers need to decide for themselves.

Take some time to start formulating yours by reading some of the other participants’ views. You’ll find the list with links to specific articles at the end of Monday’s post.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of Raven’s Ladder from WaterBrook Press.

Published in: on April 28, 2010 at 4:22 pm  Comments (4)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, Day 2

Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, the second April feature of the CSFF Blog Tour, is a dense book. In some ways the fantasy is dense.

Yesterday I looked at two specific ways authors of fantasy can connect with readers. Mr. Overstreet succeeds in those ways, I believe. But another factor comes into play—the on-going epic story, published over a series of four books. Since I write this type of fantasy too, I’m particularly sensitive to this subject.

In my appraisal, this book works—all except the prologue and the first couple chapters. Because the Auralia Thread story has a full cast of characters and takes place in various parts of the Expanse, because each of the previous books has featured a different character than the ones we are initially introduced to in Raven’s Ladder, I felt a more thorough review of the story at the beginning of this book would have been helpful (there is a short summary, but the emphasis here is short). Better yet might be a what-happened-last section bringing readers once again up-to-date with Cal-raven, the focus of this latest installment of the series.

Be that as it may, the density and accessibility of the novel isn’t my subject today. Rather, I want to address one of the themes (though I don’t think Mr. Overstreet believes in incorporating theme into his stories intentionally).

One aspect of Raven’s Ladder is Cal-raven’s belief in the Keeper, a creature most in the Expanse believe to be mythical, a dream figure children embrace but grow out of. Cal-raven did not grow out of his longing for the Keeper, however, and early in this book, he has a direct encounter with it which cements his belief.

However, midway through the book, in House (country or more accurately, city-state) Bel Amica, Cal-raven stumbles upon a group of people claiming to also believe in the Keeper. In fact, one, who used to lead the rebellious faction known as the Grudgers, claims he has seen the Keeper and can describe him. He proceeds to do so, but the creature he paints is nothing like the one Cal-raven encountered. In essence, the two men digress to a “this one said, that one said” disagreement, proving nothing.

This segment of the story made me aware once again of the importance of authoritative, absolute truth. For anyone to put faith in moon spirits or the Keeper or even in himself, he is vulnerable to the next guy who comes along saying, no, the moon spirits, the Keeper, or a regular person does or does not have the qualities, attributes, abilities, or what have you that the first individual professed. In other words, all views are equally valid because none are independently verifiable. As a result, truth is relative.

Interestingly, much of the Auralia Thread series revolves around the idea of beauty. The world of the Expanse is dark and deadly, but none of the characters seems to disagree that Beauty exists, that the colors, the music, the light, the water with restorative powers is real. None fails to recognize beauty either, though some want to use, hoard, or ban it.

Beauty in this story, then, seems like the one universal, the one absolute. People’s response? Clearly that’s another matter.

So the point that comes to my mind is this: God has made it clear that He can be seen in what He created (in essence, in the beauty of our world), but He went further because He knew beauty by itself wasn’t enough. Therefore, He revealed Himself in the flesh and in the written word. He wants to be known. He is no mystery, except to those whose eyes are veiled, whose sight is blind, whose ears are stopped.

My review of Raven’s Ladder tomorrow, as God wills.

Today, take a look at what others on the tour think. You’ll find the list with appropriate links to the various articles at the end of yesterday’s post

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of Raven’s Ladder from WaterBrook Press..

CSFF Blog Tour – Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, Day 1

Because we missed touring in February, the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring a second book in April—Raven’s Ladder, the third book in Jeffrey Overstreet‘s Auralia Thread adult fantasy series.

As is my want to do during our tours, I’ll digress a bit to something the book made me think about. In the case of Raven’s Ladder, that something is fantasy itself, and in particular, fantasy settings.

While fantasy in general continues to sell well, and Christian publishers are slowly adding more titles and authors, there lingers a perception that fantasy is for a select few who like unpronounceable names and unrealistic stories.

Certainly I don’t agree with that perspective, but it does bring up the question: can a fantasy setting be too “dense” to allow access by readers less inclined toward the genre? And if so, when does an author cross that line?

After all, isn’t one of the joys of fantasy the chance to imagine new and different places? But of course all fiction opens the reader to new and different places. I’ve been to Russia, China, Israel, and Germany, all through novels. I’ve lived in the eighteen century, the early twentieth, and even the twenty-fifth.

So imagining new and different places isn’t reserved for fantasy. Why then does fantasy cause so many to associate the genre with “strange,” rather than imaginatively new and different?

I don’t have any hard evidence one way or the other, but here’s what I suspect: fantasy that doesn’t connect the reader to the real world gets labeled “strange.” By “connect to the real world” I don’t mean that all fantasy needs to be about a character from this world. Nor do I believe it must be set in this world.

Tolkien’s heroes were Hobbits, not humans, and Lewis’s Narnia was clearly a world apart from this one, yet those two authors are arguably the most popular fantasy writers of all time.

What, then, are the elements that help a reader connect to a fantasy world? I think there are several that help me.

Accessible names. These aren’t necessarily familiar names but they should have a familiar feel to them. Bilbo, Samwise, Aslan, Taran, Dobro Turtlebane, and Cal-raven from Raven’s Ladder are accessible, though different. The vowel-consonant combinations aren’t unfamiliar to English speakers.

An understandable society. Recently I saw an old Star Trek: Next Generations re-run in which Worf brought to the forefront how impossible it was for Romulans to understand Klingons because they do not place the same value on honor. The conflict made perfect sense to anyone who’s viewed the show for any length of time because that cultural distinction had been clearly established.

More importantly, the idea that a culture would value an ethical or moral attribute more than life itself doesn’t seem bizarre or stupid. Different, perhaps, but in an admirable way. Clearly the culture is one readers can relate to.

So too, in Raven’s Ladder when the king does away with old segregation lines and no longer follows the rules of old, readers can understand the conflict such a change could create.

Certainly there are more ways a writer can create a unique world that feels new and different yet retains the sense of familiarity that will draw readers in rather than repelling them. What are some ideas you’ve see in your reading or included in your writing?

Once again, I invite you to see what others touring Raven’s Ladder are saying about the book:

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of Raven’s Ladder from WaterBrook Press.

Fantasy Friday – New Releases

I’m pretty excited about the direction Christian fantasy is going. First, I’ve discovered general market Christian fantasy authors like R. J. Anderson and Australian author D.M. Cornish, published by Putnam.

Then I learned at Mount Hermon that Books and Such agented a fantasy author, selling the trilogy to Bethany House. Also, AMG (Dragons in Our Midst) has branched out and is now publishing adult fantasy.

Of course WaterBrook continues to lead the way with traditional publishers when it comes to speculative fiction. This month they released Raven’s Ladder (a CSFF feature later this month), Book 3 of the Auralia Thread series by Jeffrey Overstreet. In May The Last Christian a science fiction thriller by David Gregory will hit bookstore shelves. Publisher’s Weekly has this to say about the latter:

The plotting is intricate and imaginative, and the religious elements go beyond formula, though the political intrigue plot thread is less convincing. Gregory’s approach is fresh, and he’s produced a page-turner.

The big news is that Marcher Lord Press just released its new set of books: To Darkness Fled by Jill Williamson, The Superlative Stream by Kerry Nietz, and The Word Unleashed by Steve Rzasa. The last two are science fiction.

Last month Publisher’s Weekly carried a short blurb about To Darkness Fled in their “Books in Brief” section. Here’s the opening line:

“Christian fantasy is the wee niche in which this fat book fits, and here’s hoping its quality helps enlarge the niche.”

The only thing I didn’t like in the PW blurb was the characterization of Christian fantasy as a “wee niche,” but that probably describes the number of available titles rather than the number of writers or would-be-if-they-only-knew readers.

In other encouraging news, the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference featured a Major Morning Track, eight hours of instruction, focused on speculative fiction. Also, three of the eight award winners there were speculative fiction writers.

Slowly but surely, the genre is coming of age.

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